Daily Egyptian

GSU students, faculty rally for education funding

By Mike Nolan, The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

Mychael Vanarsdale expects to get his bachelor’s degree from Governors State University in May, but he said his nephew’s plans to attend college in Illinois, possibly at GSU, are uncertain.

Vanarsdale, president of the student senate at GSU, said his nephew, a high school junior, is considering attending school out of state, and that he might not be the only one rethinking college plans in light of Illinois’ current budget impasse.

“There’s a lot of worry, and for good reason,” Vanarsdale said after a rally Monday aimed at making GSU students’ voices heard in Springfield. “There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding higher education.”

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More than 200 students and faculty at the University Park school gathered outside the university’s entrance, some carrying signs that read “Fund our future” and “Don’t cut our dreams,” as the school has had to tap reserve funds to cover financial assistance grants for students who haven’t received the money from the state.

The 27-year-old Vanarsdale, who grew up in University Park, said that leaders in Springfield are “willingly killing dreams and opportunities” for Southland residents by holding back funding for higher education, which will end up “destroying jobs and careers and, ultimately, lives.”

The Illinois House on March 2 fell two votes shy of overriding Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill intended to funnel $721 million to colleges and universities, including freeing up funds for the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, which offers grants for low-income students to help cover college tuition costs.

GSU has covered those grants for more than 1,100 of its students for the current academic year, and the school is prepared to do the same for the 2016-17 academic year, Brian Mitchell, a member of GSU’s Board of Trustees, said.

The board voted Friday to freeze student tuition rates for the coming year because of the budget uncertainty, Mitchell and Elaine Maimon, GSU’s president, said following the rally.

“Right now these students have enough challenges on them,” Mitchell said.

Republican leaders have said that with the state facing $7.4 billion in unpaid bills, it’s disingenuous on the part of Democrats to give the impression that higher education money is readily available.

Matt Gentry, a graduate student at GSU, asked that Rauner and the legislature “hear our collective voices.”

“We need help and we need it now,” he told the crowd.

On the matter of MAP grants, Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Crest Hill, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, contrasted the millionaire governor’s wealth with the modest means of the students who rely on the tuition assistance.

“He does not know the lives we live,” he said.

Apart from rallies, those students impacted by the budget standoff will need to do more to get their concerns heard by legislators, Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said.

“I wish I could fix this for you, but it’s going to take you not standing down,” she said.

Still, Hutchinson said that such rallies are helping to convey the urgency of the issue.

Maimon told the crowd that they need to send a message that, “We are all for a strong Illinois, which is a well-educated Illinois.”

At the rally’s close, Vanarsdale urged students who aren’t registered to vote to do so, and those who are registered to vote at the local, state and national level.

“We have to show our political voice,” he said.

After the rally, Vanarsdale, who lives in Monee, said that a “lot of students are unaware what’s happening” in Springfield because they’re too busy attending classes, working and raising families, but that he hoped the rally would raise.

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(c)2016 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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